No Money for Federal Defense But Costa Rica Gets New Computers

A hearing was held yesterday on sequester cuts to defender services. Funding for federal defender services is quickly becoming a constitutional crisis. Federal defender offices are facing closure, federal courts are considering doing away with juries in civil cases, fees for appointed counsel are being delayed, and funding is being slashed for probation and pre-trial services. The Judiciary has requested emergency funding, and Congress has not acted on it. Here is the statement of Hon. Julia S. Gibbons, Chair of the Committee on the Budget of the Judicial Conference of the United States.

But the U.S. has money to buy Costa Rica $30,000 of new computers as a "display of friendship" to be used in developing crime-fighting strategies, as part of the CARSI initiative.[More...]

The U.S. government announced Monday the donation of equipment and computer software to Costa Rica’s Prosecutor’s Office to help modernize the country’s criminal justice system and take on the big fish of crime, including drug traffickers....The U.S. donation includes 17 laptop and 19 desktop computers, 107 software licenses and two projectors, worth nearly $30,000.

We're actually spending $161.5 million on CARSI, according to the White House.

CARSI is the primary mechanism for assisting Central American governments to improve citizen security.  Through CARSI, the United States supports Central American nations to reduce levels of crime and violence, boost the capacity and accountability of rule of law institutions, and expand municipal crime prevention and services for at-risk youth.  From fiscal years 2008 – 2012, the United States contributed $496 million through CARSI to tackle the most immediate security threats and to build stronger institutional foundations for long-term success.  FY 2012’s $135 million commitment to CARSI represented a 33 percent increase over 2011 funding, and the Administration has requested $161.5 million in FY 2014. Part of it goes to prevention efforts to keep their communities safe:

CARSI funds are also going towards gang prevention efforts in Central America.

USAID has also launched anti-gang programs aimed at preventing at-risk youth from joining gangs, as well as increasing community policing and other crime prevention initiatives.

DOJ isn't facing funding cuts. Their 2014 budget calls for adding 115 lawyers. According to Sen. Patrick Leahy's statement at yesterday's hearing, the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science recently allocated a $38 million increase in funding to the U.S. Attorneys’ Office.

The U.S. has a constitutional obligation to provide lawyers for the indigent. Adequate funding for Federal Defenders, probation and pre-trial services is essential. Helping Central America and other foreign countries help their own citizens and develop research strategies for crime-fighting should take a back seat.

The 2014 U.S. Drug Control budget reveals the amount we will spend on the war on drugs is $25.4 Billion.

Congress eased sequester cuts for air-traffic controllers. Why? So delays would not irritate the public. Those cuts were not of constitutional dimensions. Congress needs to pass the Judiciary request as soon as possible.

Where is President Obama? Given his new-found empathy for minority youth, can't he spare a little of that concern for minorities who can't afford lawyers? Are his days as a Constitutional Law teacher so far behind him, he can't remember Gideon v. Wainright? If he doesn't want to re-read it, maybe he could watch the HBO documentary Gideon's Army.

[Note to commenters: Comments must address defender services, not your view of Obama's recent remarks on race. I've heard enough on that topic in other threads. All such comments will be deleted.]

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    When you try to imagine why this happens (none / 0) (#1)
    by TeresaInPa on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 07:06:30 AM EST
    or at least when I try to imagine why this happens, I know it has everything to do with the complicated politics of DC.  So much depends on who can twist the arm of who and who owes a favor to the next guy.
    I can see why the siren song of smaller government works for republicans. Seems like we should have better control over the critters and what they are doing in our name and with our money.  
    I absolutely agree with you about what our priorities should be.  I also think President Obama is completely unaware of the problem.  I don't think he has the will or the political capital to spend on it.  I see another few years of nothing happening.

    Almost no pol gets budget issues (none / 0) (#2)
    by ragebot on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 07:46:44 AM EST
    As Teresainpa notes there is an attraction to what Republicans term small government.

    But in my mind the real problem is govt at all levels don't have real budgets.  This may get a little wonkey(is that a real word) but bear with me.

    First off any accountant will confirm if a private company kept its books like the feds do peeps would go to jail.    Then there are problems with govt organization like food stamps being in DOA, not to mention changing the name of food stamps to SNAP.  How much did that wasted feel good effort cost?  And does anyone really call food stamps SNAP?

    Don't take this as a bash of food stamps.  High profile Republicans are pushing the program as much as Democrats.  Especially fighting against what to me are common sense changes like not being able to buy expensive and low value foods like soda, candy, and chips.

    There are folks who really need help getting enough food to eat.  The problem is pols have distortrd this program, and countless others, into perks for the highest bidder.

    As to Jeralyn's point I would mention there is a difference between a one time grant and a recurring expense. Computers to South America are a one time expense, same for a lot of state and local LEO grants.  Funds for fed PDs, at least in my mind, should be a recurring line item expense.

    Any account will tell you recurring and one time expenses come out of different buckets.  Gotta learn the lingo if you want the bucks.

    maybe what we need to do (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by TeresaInPa on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 08:52:00 AM EST
    is take money from the one time expense bucket that goes for things like computers for South America and put it in the bucket for things like PDs.  I understand the concept and you might say that in the long run the long term bucket is much more expensive.  However, you do enough of the fund shifting, a billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you are talking about real money.
    We have to do something to solve the problems of inequality in this country and fast or the nation will fail.  We can't keep pretending recovery for the top few percent is recovery for all of us.
    Equal justice before the law is fundamental.

    Yes (none / 0) (#4)
    by Zorba on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 01:38:57 PM EST
    I would further add that absolutely no more money should be spent by the DOJ to add those 115 lawyers, until parity is reached with the federal defender services.  Fund the defenders first, and hire way more of them.  Then maybe (maybe) we could talk about hiring more prosecutors.  But not until then.
    Your sentence "Equal justice before the law is fundamental" says it all.

    Well (none / 0) (#7)
    by jbindc on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 02:37:13 PM EST
    Here's where they want to add those attorneys:

    Here is what the budget proposes for key divisions at DOJ:

    Criminal Division: DOJ wants to add 31 attorneys to the Criminal Division. The $8.5 million increase includes nine attorneys to increase cybercrime investigations and prosecutions, 16 attorneys to prosecute significant financial crimes, and seven attorneys that will address and stop intellectual property threats more quickly. The request is new this budget year.

    Civil Division: DOJ wants to add 32 attorneys to the Civil Division to combat the financial and mortgage fraud that "goes to the very heart of the recent financial crisis." The additional $7 million for attorneys will "add muscle" to efforts "to recover billions of dollars for federal coffers each year and reduce the nation's debt." The same positions were requested last year. The DOJ also wants to add $1.6 million for an "attorney productivity initiative," which would provide more support personnel for fact discovery, exhibit preparation and other litigation actions to combat "a distinct disadvantage when opposing blue chip firms in complex cases that often involve billions of dollars in claims."

    Civil Rights Division: DOJ wants to add 43 attorneys to the Civil Rights Division to strengthen enforcement efforts, especially in financial and mortgage fraud and police misconduct. Most of those positions - 25 attorneys - would focus on human trafficking, hate crimes, voting rights enforcement and enforcement of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act. There would be 10 more attorneys to conduct investigations of predatory lending, pricing discrimination and lending practices in minority neighborhoods. Nine more attorneys would root out the most egregious incidents of police misconduct. All the positions were requested last year. The positions would be part of a $10.7 million increase for the division.

    Office of the Solicitor General: Will remain at 22 attorneys but add $711,000 for six support personnel. The positions were requested last year.

    Antitrust Division: DOJ wants to remove 10 attorney positions from the Antitrust Division that have become vacant because of budget constraints. The move would be part of $823,000 in savings.

    Hmmm...going after banksters, cybercrime, intellectual property, and strengthening the civil rights division to include things like voting rights enforcement, human trafficking, and police misconduct. Seems like issues people around here would be glad to see have stronger enforcement.

    Notice it isn't for stronger drug law enforcement.


    If they actually (none / 0) (#13)
    by Zorba on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 05:39:26 PM EST
    DO these things, then bully for them.  We'll see.
    They still need to ensure that poorer federal defendants are provided with decent counsel.  This is, after all, one of the foundations of our Constitution.  I'm sure that you would not approve of inadequate or non-existent counsel for those who do not have the money to afford lawyers.

    Of course not (none / 0) (#14)
    by jbindc on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 06:22:04 PM EST
    I certainly didn't say that. I think this whole thing is a sham (and a shame).

    But please note that the very same subjects many liberals rail against - not going after the banksters and police corruption, for example - would be addressed by these new hires (if they actually get the money).  And looking at who they plan to investigate and go after, it appears that a vast majority of those will not need the services of Federal Public defenders.

    And of course, what was listed was just proposed (you always ask for more than you expect to receive).  Just as the Judicial Conference requested emergency appropriation funding in May to pay for public defenders through sequestration and furloughs.  And in their FY2014 budget request, the Judicial Conference includes the following:

    Defender Services

    For the Defender Services program, the revised FY 2014 budget request includes an 11.4% increase to $1.1 billion to handle an estimated 209,700 representations. This request includes a small cost-of-living adjustment to the panel attorney non-capital rate (from $125 to $126 per hour) and the capital rate (from $178 to $180 per hour). The request also seeks partial restoration of sequestration cuts, including:

    *$15.1 million for federal defender offices to restore staff time lost due to furloughs and to partially restore staff cuts;

    *$55.1 million to restore funds for panel attorney payments, including $27.7 million to make payments to panel attorneys that should have been made during FY 2013 and $27.4 million to prevent deferral of payments in FY 2014; and

    *$11.9 million for federal defender offices to restore funding to non-salary accounts, such as funds for expert witnesses and other costs of representation.  

    That would be nice, but ... (none / 0) (#6)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 02:21:13 PM EST
    ... it's just not as simple as "[taking] money from the one time expense bucket that goes for things like computers for South America and [putting] it in the bucket for things like PDs."

    The executive branch is prohibited by law from transferring funds from one agency to another without congressional authorization. Now, I may be mistaken here, but upon a cursory glance, it appears to me that the CARSI initiative is an entirely separate appropriation in the federal budget from that which funds the federal Office of the Public Defender.

    It's the primary function of Congress to determine federal priorities and enact policy, of which the federal budget is its primary means. While the administration can offer recommendations to Congress regarding the federal budget, it can't just unilaterally decide to move money around between various federal departments, or even agencies within those departments, as it may see fit, unless Congress has expressly given the president the authority to do so.

    Fundamentally, that's what got the Reagan administration into big trouble with its Iran-Contra scheme 25 years ago -- bypassing Congress and spending monies in a manner which was otherwise expressly prohibited.



    who said it would be simple? (none / 0) (#10)
    by TeresaInPa on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 04:44:53 PM EST
    better not even try to fix the problem then, presidentin and legislatin is hard.

    What exactly would have him do? (none / 0) (#5)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 01:55:02 PM EST
    Jeralyn: "Where is President Obama? Given his new-found empathy for minority youth, can't he spare a little of that concern for minorities who can't afford lawyers?"

    Mr. Obama can use the bully pulpit as he's doing today (quite effectively, I might add), but at the end of the day ehen all is said and done, the ball is actually in Congress's court, as you so noted in the prior paragraph.

    And speaking for myself only, this is without a doubt the most blatantly irresponsible House of Representatives that I've seen in my lifetime, surpassing even the 1998 version whose GOP leadership thought it a good idea to impeach President Clinton, simply because they could. So I'm not going to hold my breath. It's probably going to get worse, before it starts getting better.

    While the administration and the federal judiciary do retain a certain amount of discretionary spending, even that's subject to congressional appropriation. Regardless of what some civics-challenged people seem to think, the president can't spend monies that haven't been authorized.

    Again, this is just my opinion, but I think what we'll end up seeing are quite a number of cases in federal court being dismissed because of the government's failure to provide the accused with representation, per the law and Gideon.

    And given our current obsession with law and order, if that doesn't grab the general public's attention, and compel us as citizens to get off our a$$es and pressure congressional Republicans to cease their collectively ridiculous il Duce-type posturing with due regard to their relations with the Obama White House, get rid of the sequester and pass a responsible federal budget, then this country will get exactly what we deserve.


    They are building a new commissary here (none / 0) (#8)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 04:05:47 PM EST
    too, even though the VA doesn't have a system that can process anyone and get them help when they have PTSD.  See, Publix recently moved in a flashy great store.  I guess too many of us have shopped there now and the contractor who has the commissary contract has suffered.  It will be the same food, that goes home to feed the same people, only out of a useless flashy new costly taxpayer paid for building.

    The Lyster clinic installed a GIANT revolving front door for the disabled too.  Biggest revolving door I've ever seen.  It is huge, it is so huge that it disrupts cooling the building properly.  I have no idea what it cost but it is not used, not even one day.  The old automatic doors on the side that look like the doors at the grocery store are what we all still use.

    Some retired general probably works for the contractor that makes and installs the revolving door :)

    Effect of sequester on health and help (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by oculus on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 04:12:04 PM EST
    For native Americans:  NYT

    One decent thing about any of it (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 05:05:48 PM EST
    At least most of the GS employees have stopped blaming Obama for sequestration.  It is here now, not some make believe thing that happens to the undeserving :) They are finally paying attention. And they have also stopped hating on poor people and talking all sorts of smack about "penalizing" success.  They have now seriously shut the hell up.  Because they are worth something in their minds and they are now being penalized while the rich are still unscathed.  Finally I do not have to listen to all this constant crazy Fox News crapola anymore.  Praise God

    Depressing as hell (none / 0) (#11)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 04:50:18 PM EST